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What To Do (And How To Find Out) If Your Car Is Being Recalled–Updated

Recalls are without doubt the biggest story in the auto industry this year, with about 52 million models – that’s roughly one out of every five vehicles in the nation – being called back by their manufacturers for safety-related defects. This total has already blown away the previous all-time high of 30.8 million units recalled in 2004; with another two months left on the calendar, 2014 could easily beat the previous record by 100 percent.

As our colleague Micheline Maynard recently reported, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is expanding its recall of vehicles equipped with potentially dangerous airbags manufactured by auto supplier Takata to include 7.8 million vehicles from the 2000-2008 model years built by BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota, with the possibility of even more models subsequently being included. (UPDATE: We’ve added NHTSA’s list of applicable models being recalled for faulty airbags at the end of this post.)

There seems to be no end to the number of cars being recalled this year, with a new initiative hitting the headlines at the rate of about two a day, according to CNN Money. Virtually all automakers – even some of the lowest-volume exotic makes like Rolls-Royce, Lotus and Lamborghini – have issued at least one recall over the last two years.

2007 Pontiac Vibe photographed in USA. Categor...

GM is telling Pontiac Vibe owners not to let passengers sit in the front seat because of a potentially defective airbag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps it’s because recalls have become become far too commonplace, but a disconcerting number of consumers seem to be ignoring them altogether. More than 3.5 million used cars hit the market with unresolved recalls on their records last year according to the used-car title search company Carfax, with that number expected to swell exponentially during 2014. “Open recalls are a major public safety issue,” says Larry Gamache, communications director at Carfax. “In fact, our research indicates that more than one in ten used cars for sale online has an open recall.”

To be sure, the latest massive recall involving deficient airbags affects some of the most popular used vehicles on the market, including Dodge Ram trucks, Ford Mustangs, Subaru Outbacks and Legacies, Toyota Corollas, Nissan Maximas, Pathfinders and Sentras and Honda Accords, Civic, CR-Vs, Elements and Odysseys.

Automakers usually conduct recalls voluntarily for safety-related defects based on their own research, though sometimes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandates then based on investigations spurred by owner complaints and/or accident data. While many recalls are initiated to resolve serious issues that could lead to crashes, injuries or even fatalities, others can be more benign, such as when the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ sports cars were recalled in 2012 to replace a few misprinted pages in their owners’ manuals.

When a recall is issued the manufacturer is required to contact every owner of record for that particular model by mail. By happenstance, however, this usually excludes second or third owners. Fortunately, NHTSA recently launched a free online database that allows consumers to determine if cars they currently own – as well as those they’re considering buying in the resale market or are renting (the latter being an issue that’s woefully overlooked) – are at risk because of uncorrected safety-related recalls.

Available at, users simply enter a model’s vehicle identification number. Also known as a VIN, it’s both noted on a car or truck’s title and can be found at the dashboard on the driver’s side of the vehicle, or on the driver’s side door on the door post. The system will list any unresolved recalls, or if there are none, will simply report, “No Open Recalls.”

Owners can also register their vehicles with NHTSA and be contacted automatically if a safety issue is discovered, via a downloadable app for Apple iOS and Android phones. The free app also enables motorists to submit complaints to NHTSA regarding possible safety problems with their vehicles.

Depending on the nature of the recall, you may want to limit driving it until the repair is completed; in rare instances an automaker may inform owners to leave the vehicle parked until a dealership can resolve the issue. For example, again as originally reported here by Micheline Maynard, GM is telling owners of the since discontinued Pontiac Vibe not to allow passengers to sit in the front seat until cars can be repaired over concerns about a defective airbag inflator.

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Flying cars are coming, but they aren’t quite the ones we’ve dreamed about.

Let’s be honest: it’s 2014, and the automotive industry has utterly disappointed a generation of science-fiction lovers and futurists. Where are our flying cars?

Stepping into the void is Terrafugia, which bills itself as a “the flying car company.” It has announced an upcoming model called the “Transition,” which sports foldable wings that let the vehicle go from car to plane in about 20 seconds with the flip of a switch. Talk about a convertible.

To be frank, the upcoming Terrafugia Transition is not quite the flying Jetsons-esque car of your dreams.  The Terrafugia Transition is, more accurately, a plane you can drive rather than a car you can fly. That means, sadly, you’re not going to be able to hover away from a bad traffic jam.

But while it’s unlikely that you’ll see the plane/car combo replace the minivan, the company is trying to set an early standard for how regulators can deal with vehicles that operate both on the ground and in the air.

“It’s a first practical step,” said Terrafugia chief executive officer Carl Dietrich. “It’s what we can do today with today’s existing infrastructure.”

From a regulation standpoint, Terrafugia has built in safety measures mandated by both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So, for example, the Transition has both a parachute and airbags. To take care of the fact that it doesn’t have a traditional rear windshield, the Transition has a camera in the back, allowing drivers to see what’s behind them through a screen on the dash. No one wants to get into a lane-changing accident with a plane, after all. It also has all the things you’d expect in a car, such as standard seatbelts and side-view mirrors that can see around the massive wings when in car mode and can be removed altogether for flight.

Despite being street legal (with the wings up) the Transition is not exactly what you’d call a general purpose vehicle. To use both the flying and driving functions — and, if you’re going to drop an anticipated $279,000 on a vehicle, why wouldn’t you? — you must have at least a sports pilot license.

You’re also going to need a runway: the Transition still needs a lot of room and a wide berth to take off, which it can do once it gets to a speed of about 70 miles per hour. And that runway can’t be just anywhere, because you can’t just roll up to Reagan National Airport or Chicago’s O’Hare and expect to take off– you’ll need to head instead to one of the nation’s approximately 5,000 general aviation airports. 

One thing you won’t need, however, is a hangar. Wings folded, the Transition is roughly the size of a Cadillac Escalade or a Ford F-350, Terrafugia executives said, so it should fit in a standard single-car garage. It also runs on normal premium unleaded gasoline and gets roughly 35 miles to the gallon on the ground. In the air, it gets slightly less — about 20 miles to the gallon if you’re flying 100 miles per hour.

The vehicle has a steering wheel for ground navigation, which pilot-drivers can then switch out for a steering stick in the air. It has four pedals on the ground — gas and brake pedals for driving and two rudder pedals for flying.

For the future, Terrafugia is planning a flying car that won’t need a runway — but you’ll have  to wait a while. The development process alone for that model, called the TF-X,  is expected to take an agonizingly long 8-12 years.

The Jetsons future where a flying car sat in every driveway was set in 2062. In other words: the clock’s ticking, folks.

The Terrafugia Transition “flying car” sits on display at the New York International Auto Show in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 4, 2012. The Terrafugia Transition, developed by a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained engineers, seats two and can take off and land from more than 5,000 public U.S. airfields. It can be driven on any road and runs on the same gasoline as high-performance cars. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

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A Ferris Wheel for Cars and Trucks

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Visiting a great car show in Great Falls, Va.:

The rumor going around the car show last Saturday morning was that Jay Leno was coming. Like medieval fathers with marriage-age daughters, some of us were hopeful a deal might be struck.

We were at Katie’s Cars Coffee, a mouthwatering assemblage of interesting automobiles that blossoms every week in the meandering parking lots of the Great Falls Village Centre.

We were all of us car guys (and gals), and Jay is America’s No. 1 Car Guy, owner of a 130-car collection. We knew he was going to be at the Kennedy Center the next day to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, so we figured there was a pretty good chance he’d be here, walking past our cars.

Mr. Leno, you own a 1915 Hispano-Suiza, a 1937 Bugatti Atlantic and a 1967 Lamborghini Miura, but do you have a 1968 Datsun roadster? I do, and I cherish it. Still, everyone has a price. . . .

As we waited for the denim-clad King of Late Night we feasted on the cars: Ferraris, Maseratis, Aston Martins, Porsches, Corvettes, but also hand-built hot rods and a VW Beetle that burbled around in search of a parking spot.

The air was pungent with the heady aroma of gasoline.

And coffee. Katie’s is named for Mike Kearney’s coffee shop on Walker Road. Four years ago, a customer and friend named Bob Morris thought that the coffee shop would be the perfect nucleus for the sort of informal early morning gathering that is popular in California.

“The roads are period correct out this way,” Bob said. “I just like driving old cars in Great Falls.”

And since Great Falls is an affluent place, some pretty special cars started showing up, a different crop every week.

“Last year, we had two Bugatti Veyrons here on two different days,” Mike said. “Three months ago — and they didn’t even know each other — we had two F-40 Ferraris here. Where can you see that, especially in this area?”

What makes Katie’s so special, Mike said, is that “it doesn’t matter what the car is. If it’s unique and it’s a love of yours, I can guarantee that somebody else here will love it. You just bring what you have and show it to other enthusiasts.”

Eric Zausner drove over from Potomac in one of his custom hot rods, a magnificent inky-black, boat-tailed creation made to his specifications and called the Zephyr. The interior — seats, door panels — is swathed in alligator hide, stained red.

“Eleven alligators had a career change,” Eric said of the toothy beasts that wound up upholstering his hot rod. “I tell people these are now extinct. Red alligators were easiest to find in the Everglades, so now they’re all gone.”

Eric was coy when I asked how much it costs to build a car like his.

“Let me put it this way,” he said. “I gave the guy an unlimited budget, and he exceeded it.”

Sitting next to the Zephyr was the yang to its yin: an alarmingly haphazard 1940 Ford pickup truck known as a rat rod.

“It’s just a tongue-in-cheek slap in the face of the $200,000 custom hot rods,” said owner Ron Sturges, looking at Eric’s car with a smile. The fact is, Ron’s car doubtless cost a fortune, too, what with its custom-built Ford 427 V8 race motor, artfully distressed welds and faux-rusty paint job. It’s an amazing simulacrum of an old car found in a farmer’s field that happens to have been built from an old car found in a farmer’s field.

“Beauty’s in the eyes of the beholder” is how Bob Morris described the impulse that makes a person prefer one type of car over another — while simultaneously loving all cars. Being a “car guy,” he said, “kind of transcends the economic barriers, so you have a $3,000 Volkswagen here, and there’s two McLarens parked up the street that are million-dollar cars. But the common bond is everybody’s here because of their enjoyment of cars.”

(Bob is partial to British cars, including the canary yellow 1953 Allard J2 he brought.)

On a sunny Saturday morning, up to 400 cars show up to Katie’s. Mike schedules 10 baristas starting at 5 a.m. to serve the crowd. He’ll sell more than 1,000 cups of coffee.

The show starts early — some owners start pulling in around 5 a.m. to snag the best spots — and is pretty much over by 9:30, when the shopping center wakes up. It’s like getting a glimpse of an African watering hole where exotic animals come together briefly then disperse to their native habitats.

In the end, Jay Leno was a no-show, but I’m sure he won’t be able to stay away for long.

To see a video of Katie’s Cars Coffee, go to

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit

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The Self-Driving Google Car May Never Actually Happen

Another problem with maps is that once you make them, you have to keep them up to date, a challenge Google says it hasn’t yet started working on. Considering all the traffic signals, stop signs, lane markings, and crosswalks that get added or removed every day throughout the country, keeping a gigantic database of maps current is vastly difficult. Safety is at stake here; Chris Urmson, director of the Google car team, told me that if the car came across a traffic signal not on its map, it could potentially run a red light, simply because it wouldn’t know to look for the signal. Urmson added, however, that an unmapped traffic signal would be “very unlikely,” because during the “time and construction” needed to build a traffic signal, there would be adequate opportunity to add it to the map.

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How to Tell If You’re Safe From Auto Recalls

An airbag igniter is built into a steering wheel for a car at the Takata Ignition Systems Gmbh factory in Schoenebeck, Germany, 17 April 2014.
An airbag igniter being installed at a Takata factory in Schoenebeck, Germany
Jens Wolf—picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

It seems like every other day, news breaks about a recall on millions of cars that, if left unaddressed, could prove deadly. Here’s what consumers can do to ensure their safety.

There are two months left in the year, but 2014 has already broken the record for most auto recalls ever. As of October, automakers had issued recalls for an estimated all-time-high of 56 million vehicles in the U.S. “To put that in perspective, automakers have now recalled more than three times the number of new cars and trucks Americans will buy this year,” the Detroit Free Press noted.

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More Cars Added to Air Bag Recall List

Law makers and safety advocates are calling on the U.S. auto regulator, car makers and a major supplier of automotive air bags to agree to a nationwide recall of millions of vehicles equipped with air bags that can explode too violently.

The move comes as federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether Japanese air bag supplier Takata Corp. made misleading statements to regulators about the safety of its air bags, people…

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The Price of Hybrid and Electric Cars Is Plummeting. Here’s Why

2012 Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius
David Dewhurst

Among the trickle-down effects of cheaper gas prices are lower sales totals for alternative-fuel cars—which in turn have forced automakers to slash prices on these vehicles.

USA Today just reported that Ford is cutting the sticker price of the fully battery-powered plug-in Focus Electric by a flat $6,000. That’s on top of a $4,000 price reduction on the same vehicle a year ago. The new sticker price is $29,995 including shipping—but not including federal tax credits of up to $7,500 and state incentives that might effectively knock another $2,500 off the amount buyers pay.

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With 56 Million Auto Recalls This Year, How Do You Know You’re Safe?

An airbag igniter is built into a steering wheel for a car at the Takata Ignition Systems Gmbh factory in Schoenebeck, Germany, 17 April 2014.
An airbag igniter being installed at a Takata factory in Schoenebeck, Germany
Jens Wolf—picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

It seems like every other day, news breaks about a recall on millions of cars that, if left unaddressed, could prove deadly. Here’s what consumers can do to ensure their safety.

There are two months left in the year, but 2014 has already broken the record for most auto recalls ever. As of October, automakers had issued recalls for an estimated all-time-high of 56 million vehicles in the U.S. “To put that in perspective, automakers have now recalled more than three times the number of new cars and trucks Americans will buy this year,” the Detroit Free Press noted.

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15 Awesome Cars You Can’t Buy In America

Volkswagen Sciroccos


I grew up longing for the wonderfully odd and soulful cars sold overseas — cars like Nissan’s fire breathing Skyline GTR and Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution (Japan only) or the Ford Escort Cosworth (sold in the U.K.).

I still can’t buy the Cosworth in  the U.S., but I can easily get a GTR or a Lancer Evo.

Blame globalization. Before the planet got smaller, cars were a reflection of regional tastes in design and distinctive national engineering cultures. With globalization and the expansion of multinational car companies, the regionalism that once made cars unique has faded.  

But as much as the modern car business has watered down the local character of automobiles, there are still some gems left that we can’t buy in America. 

Here’s the Volkswagen Scirocco — for most people, VW is synonymous with small, fun cars. However, in America we can’t get the company’s stylish hot hatchback.

The Scirocco was sold in the U.S. until 1988, then replaced by the VW Corrado coupe — leaving its American fans heartbroken.

Audi has extended its S-Line of high-performance cars down to pint-size A1 with the new S1 hatchback. The tiny Audi packs quite a punch, with a turbocharged 231 hp on tap.

Peugeot hasn’t sold a car in American since 1992 — a bummer because the RCZ coupe is an absolute stunner.

The RCZ’s smooth lines and powerful 270hp engine make it one of the coolest sport coupes in the world.

Although Alfa Romeo is making its U.S. comeback with the wonderful 4C sports car, its stylish Giulietta hatchback is still banned from our shores.

The idea of a pickup truck with the body of a sedan is an odd concept, but the Chevy El Camino and Ford Ranchero were cult classics until they were discontinued in the 1970s and ’80s. But the Aussies have kept the dream alive with the imposing Holden HSV Maloo Ute.

The Holden-amino offers the utility of a truck (hence the “Ute”) and the power of a muscle car. On yeah, it’s got a Corvette-inspired V8 engine.

Toyota sells a ton of pickup trucks in the U.S., but one they don’t is the go-anywhere Hilux. In fact, BBC’s “Top Gear” drove one to the North Pole. The car’s near bulletproof reliability has led the company to name a version the “Invincible.”

Land Rover’s wonderfully eccentric, old-school Defender series hasn’t been sold in the U.S. for 15 years, but we still love it for its rugged simplicity.

The Defender hasn’t changed all that much over the years. This early ’90s North American edition looks pretty much the same as a new showroom model.

America doesn’t have the same love affair with station wagons as Europe evidently does. Which is too bad because the Euros are turning out some outstanding examples, like this Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake. This high-performance English wagon comes with a 550hp supercharged V8 and room for all of your stuff.

If a big Benz is more your style, then the CLS63 AMG S-Line with a 585hp twin turbocharged V8 could be your perfect road trip car. You’ll get to where ever you’re headed in style…and at high speed!

There’s also ample room for your luggage.

Very seldom can a car’s level of luxury be described as “imperial.” Unless you’re talking about the Toyota Century Royal, which happens to be the official transport of the Japanese Imperial family.

Although not quite imperial in luxury, the Buick Park Avenue has a long history of transporting Americans in soft, wallowy comfort. Although the modern American Buick has taken on a more contemporary vibe…

…the Chinese Park Avenue is still comfortable and massive. Coincidentally, it’s actually based on the Aussie-built Holden Statesman— a cousin of the Maloo Ute.

Nothing the Park Avenue can muster matches the style and luxury of the Aston Martin Lagonda. The Buick also can’t match the Lagonda’s exclusivity. The big Aston is available in only the Middle East — and even then you have to invited to buy one.

Until recently, Lotus’s Exige was available in the U.S. Sadly, the V6-powered Exige S debuted after the company pulled the Exige line from the States.

The Noble M600 is one of the fastest supercars on the planet, with a 225 mph top speed. Unfortunately, none of the 650hp supercars have made it to the U.S.

The Morgan Aero 8 is one of the coolest and most unique British sports cars around. Unlike its the classic cars that inspired it, the Aero 8 is powered by a BMW V8 and is made of aluminum instead of wood.

Here are 20 cars you can buy in America….

DON’T MISS: Here’s A Guide To The 20 Different Versions Of The Porsche 911 You Can Buy

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